A 2006 episode of the ABC’s Lateline program led directly to the greatest human rights abuse in the past half century, said founder and former editor of the National Indigenous Times Chris Graham, at a public forum of 150 people in Sydney on September 3.
The program focused on exposing alleged instances of sexual abuse against Aboriginal women and children, including petrol being exchanged for sex and the existence of a paedophile ring, in the Northern Territory community of Mutitjulu. Graham said Lateline did not visit Mutitjulu during research or filming of the program.
Since the program aired, an NT police investigation found no evidence to support the claim that petrol was being traded for sex. A separate investigation, by the Australian Crime Commission, found no evidence supporting claims of a paedophile ring.
Lateline included an interview with Mantatjara Wilson, an Aboriginal woman, but failed to tell viewers she had not lived in Mutitjulu for seven years, Graham said.
An inquiry by the ABC’s Independent Complaints Review panel said that although there was no breach of policy on Lateline’s behalf, Wilson’s comments did not explicitly refer to the Mutitjulu community, but to Indigenous Australians in general and should be considered opinion, not fact.
In a separate interview on the same program, Lateline claimed to be speaking with an “anonymous youth worker” who asserted knowledge of violence and abuse against Aboriginal women.
The ABC later conceded that the interviewee was not a youth worker, but Gregory Andrews, who was the assistant secretary in the Office of Indigenous Policy Coordination, advising the then Indigenous affairs minister Mal Brough.
Graham questioned the credibility of Andrews’ claims, saying: “I’m not disputing that Gregory Andrews was very affected by what he saw in Central Australia. I’m disputing his truthfulness and his motive.”
Lateline also failed to disclose its knowledge of the implication of the Mutitjulu health clinic and Dr Geoff Stewart, one of Lateline’s chief witnesses and resident doctor at Mutitjulu between 2000 and 2003, in enabling an environment conducive to abuse of young Aboriginal women.
Stewart had prescribed Viagra to a man suspected of sexually abusing young women, said Graham. He provided documents that suggested Lateline was aware of this at the time of airing.
Also addressing the forum was Tjanara Goreng Goreng, former senior policy adviser at the Office of Indigenous Policy Coordination, who spoke of the investigation and legal battle she endured after blowing the whistle on the proposed government policy that led to the Northern Territory intervention.
In closing, Graham said: “I’ve been a journalist for 20 years, and this is the greatest journalistic fraud I’ve ever seen.”